Gone are the days of a quiet island that shuts down after dark.
Hospitality and hospital staff work all hours of the night. Airplanes carrying tourists and residents often land in George Town well after dark. Cayman now requires around-the-clock transportation options to service a growing population and a robust tourist sector.
As numbers on island grow, so will demand for space on the road. To avoid even greater congestion, public transportation offers an important piece of the planning puzzle.
“The solution is not building more roads. The solution is not bringing bigger buses. The solution is a combination of all of those,” Transportation Minister Moses Kirkconnell told the Cayman Compass.
“Long term, you think about bigger buses, you think about more-efficient buses, about better scheduling, about better bus stops.”
As chairperson of the Public Transport Board, Rosa Harris is tasked with guiding the conversation and moving the needle on those goals.
She recognises that Cayman’s current bus system will need to expand and modernise to serve residents’ needs – and to incentivise commuters to ditch their cars in favour of public transit.
“I think that the incentive will come when persons who enjoy their private vehicles have a similar substitute or alternative,” Harris said.
“In public transport right now, someone who’s driving a car may not feel that the 15-seater onmibuses suit them and their lifestyles …
“We want persons to look at public transport as a solution and an alternative to private transportation, but the experience has to be there.”
Harris shared some of the government’s short-term and long-term transportation goals – including improved routes, safer bus stops and development of a bus route app – that have been identified through board meetings and ministry consultations with transit workers.
Currently, most public buses in Cayman hold a maximum of 15 people. These smaller buses are already experiencing crowding and at times reaching maximum capacity, Harris said. To create a more comfortable ride for passengers and reduce the number of buses on the road, she said government is looking at a larger model bus that Caymanian entrepreneurs would be able to acquire with financial support.
“We have a model that we very much like. At this time, there isn’t a barrier to entry. It’s more of creating a framework to make the opportunity available to Caymanian entrepreneurs,” Harris said.
“That is something that we’re working on with the ministry currently.”
Once the vehicles are available on island, Caymanian businesses would be given priority for access and funding, Harris added.
“We’ve discussed the type of vehicle, looking at some new routes and routes that have a high demand, how to start to phase in this new type of vehicle,” she said. “And on the government side through the ministry, should a Caymanian want this opportunity, how would they be able to find the financial support with government as a guarantee?”
As transportation planners look to expand the bus service with new and improved routes, students and the elderly are top of mind, Harris said.
“Some of the groups that have made outreach to the board and asked for support have been students, the elderly getting to local hospitals and the eastern districts having better, more reliable service,” she said.
“Traditionally, most of the activity in Cayman has taken place in George Town and West Bay Road. So that is very well serviced.”
Recent route improvements have focussed on expansion beyond those traditional routes and included greater service in Industrial Park and secondary roads.
Government recently passed legislation that allows buses to use private roads, instead of exclusively servicing government-owned roads, Minister Kirkconnell explained. This has facilitated consideration of additional service areas.
“[We’ve been] establishing bus routes on those roads so that persons can get a little bit closer to the airport, a little bit closer to the supermarket, fast tracks past West Bay Road into West Bay,” Harris said.
“The school district is really important and the hospital, so we have service that surrounds those areas from South Sound, all the way up to Bodden Town and North Side.”
With greater night-time and early-morning activity on the island, Harris also acknowledged the need for longer hours.
“We’ve also looked at the hours that they would operate and there is a need for early-morning hours, be that either 1am, 2am,” she said.
“We need to realise that things just can’t cease at 5 or 6pm in the evening, or let’s say 8pm or 9pm with taxis, depending on when the last flight is.
“We’re now in a country that has a lot of activity around the clock, and we need to provide that service versus forcing people to buy a private vehicle and add to the congestion that’s on the road.”
To improve bus stop safety, planners are also considering lay-bys or areas where buses can fully pull off the road to let passengers on and off.
“We’ve reached out to the Ministry of Planning because they are looking at the roadway system. Some of the features or specifications that could be considered in our new roadways, if they are to be updated, would be lay-bys,” Harris said.
“So those are things that we would like to see, particularly in roadways that have a higher miles per hour. Anything 40 and above, you really need to pull off the road and get out of the regular flow of that higher-paced traffic.”
Currently, Rotary Central Cayman Islands sponsors bus shelters at certain stops, where passengers can sit and shade themselves.
“We have a great programme with Rotary with bus shelters. But obviously, having shelters comes at a cost from a community standpoint with Rotary,” Harris said.
“Establishing the right bus stops, even if there isn’t a shelter, is important, because those buses do need to pull off the road to be able to safely onboard or off-board passengers.”
A public transportation website is in the works by the Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism, with Chief Officer Stran Bodden leading the way, Harris said.
In the long term, bus riders should also be able to download a phone app to track routes and arrival times.
“You’ll have a link to the app to download. You’ll have the bus route maps available, and then you’ll have access to all sorts of public transport forms and information, and obviously a way to contact them,” Harris said.
“We would love to be able to introduce that type of technology here in Cayman so that you arrive at your location at the right time, so that you’re not waiting a long time in order to catch the type of transportation that you need.”